In a game that saw neither team lead by more than 10 points, the Thunder were able to shoot their way to victory over the Spurs, 112-106. Russell Westbrook led all scorers with 33 points on an extremely efficient 12-23 from the field. The post-up game was responsible for Westbrook's success early. Later on, Russ was mainly scoring via the pick and roll game. Durant wasn't far behind, scoring 22 points of his own. Durant had a lot of trouble evading Kawhi Leonard the entire game, but was still able to get some shots in.
Leonard, on the other hand, was dominating KD all game. KD was too slow to guard Leonard around screens, and Kawhi was able to get whatever shot he wanted. Leonard also got KD backpedaling in transition quite a bit, and it was apparent that Leonard's stamina was superior. The Spurs also had a great game off the bench from Manu Ginobili, who spaced the floor and worked off the ball for 11 points.
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Billy Donovan's Lineup Mastery
The first half of this game saw Billy Donovan use the same lineups that Scott Brooks might have run. Adams and Kanter traded time at center, while Ibaka and Collison traded time at power forward. But at halftime, the Thunder were down four. Donovan made a few changes that would help the Thunder win the game.
First of all, Donovan decided to run with Ibaka and Collison together at center and power forward. This happened with about 8 minutes to go in the third. That lineup forced eight straight empty Spur possessions right out of the gate, largely thanks to the interior D of Ibaka and Collison. Then, Donovan decided to play Steven Adams and Enes Kanter together for 8 minutes of the third and fourth quarters. The Adams-Kanter lineup ran a lot of HORNS, and went on a 9-3 run to start the fourth quarter. Interestingly, Donovan didn't run this lineup during the Pre-Season at all.
But Coach Donovan saved his best for last. For the last 5:26 of the game, Donovan went with the starters, minus Andre Roberson and plus Dion Waiters. The inclusion of Waiters turned out to be absolutely crucial. Dion hit two back-to-back mid-range jumpers during the last 2:11 of the game. Both shots were tough, with one contested around a screen and the other being a fadeaway on Parker. But Waiters shot them with confidence, and made the Spurs pay for forgetting about the shooting guard position.
So tonight, I've really gotta hand it to the new coach. I don't think Brooks could have ever made this amount of in-game adjustments.
Durant is tough when it counts, but Kawhi was better
It was Kevin Durant's first regular season game since last February, and it showed. All-world defender Kawhi Leonard was dogging KD the entire game, and Durant finished just 6 of 19 from the field. To be fair, KD did have his moments tonight. For example, Durant finished the first quarter shooting 3 of 5, while Leonard was shooting just 3 of 6. And during the last five minutes of the game, KD met the challenge once again. Out of four given possessions, Durant scored twice. Leonard scored twice on four given clutch possessions as well. So when push comes to shove, Durant didn't have a disastrous night.
But let's forget about the first quarter and the last five minutes of the fourth. In the time in-between, Leonard shot 8 of 13 while KD shot 2 of 10. That was the time where KD's game was really struggling. Offensively, Durant just couldn't get any space around screens. Durant couldn't ever get good position when posting up Leonard, either. On the defensive end, Durant switched a lot. This left Leonard free to exploit mismatches, either with his speed or size. Leonard was also beating KD in transition. Perhaps most worrying was Kawhi's turnaround jumper, which we saw him execute on KD twice in the early fourth.
Serge Ibaka's wild ride
It was a really crazy day for Serge Ibaka. Things started off rather terribly on the offensive end. Ibaka missed three straight wide open jumpers, and lost the ball off his foot when trying to back down Kawhi Leonard. Things finally got going with a pick and pop in the last first, followed by another in the second quarter. But Ibaka was very passive during the latter part of the second half in general, and got blocked on a jumper by Boris Diaw.
Then, Ibaka had an offensive explosion to begin the third quarter. Six points in the first five minutes, all of which came from spacing the floor. But after the 6:31 mark in the third, Ibaka didn't take a single shot for the rest of the game. That's roughly 9 minutes Ibaka spent on the floor with zero offensive impact. But, hay, I'm not complaining. Ibaka grabbed an extremely key offensive board on a missed Kevin Durant three with 57 seconds to go, and dished it to Westbrook for the game sealing three.
Westbrook shows all aspects of his game
By and large, Westbrook took what the defense gave him tonight. I mean, Westbrook took four threes off the dribble during the first quarter, just because the Spurs were giving him space. Russ also dared to shoot a couple of floaters during the first half, despite the fact that floaters aren't a regular part of his game. And any time Westbrook could draw a matchup with Parker, Russ went right into post-up mode.
But by the second half, Westbrook was focusing much more on his pick and roll game. Russ spent different plays working with Adams, Kanter, and Ibaka. As a result, Westbrook became more focused on his passing. Five of Westbrook's 10 assists came during the third quarter. Interestingly, Westbrook didn't enter the fourth quarter until there was 7:20 left in the game. Russ immediately attacked the paint with success, and deferred to KD and Dion late.
Defensively, it was a decent showing from Westbrook. Tony Parker has gone off for 20 or 30 before, so it was nice to see Westbrook limit TP to 11 points tonight. But it didn't make the points Parker scored any less infuriating, because they were almost all surprise points at the rim! TP only hit one shot outside of the paint, and that was in a mismatch with Roberson. Still, given that Parker was a non-factor late in the game, I'm not blaming Westbrook at all.
Really the only worrying thing about Westbrook's performance tonight is the 5 turnovers. That's par for the course for young Russ, but ideally we'd only like to see 2 or 3 turnovers per night these days.
- Andre Roberson scored on the tip-off, then had a really nice steal on an entry pass. Completely quiet after that.
- Solid defensive impact tonight from Steven Adams. Adams was assigned to guard Aldridge when the Thunder went with two centers in the third quarter. Aldridge was only 1 of 3 from the floor during that time. Adams also stopped at least one post up from Diaw and West. Adams was also tremendous defending around screens. Specifically, Adams did a good job of meeting the shooter when it mattered. Offensively, Adams was setting high screens all night. But Adams got on the score board with a couple of nice short hooks off of Westbrook screens during the third. There was also a really nice fourth quarter dunk, via a Augustin pick and roll.
- Kanter gave up about 8 points in the first half, and let David West score four towards the end of the third. But considering that Kanter had 15 points of his own on 7 of 11 shooting, all is forgiven. The 16 rebounds can't be underestimated, either. Kanter didn't play in the fourth, but I think part of it was bad decision-making. Kanter didn't take a single shot outside of the paint during the entire pre-season, yet took two during the second half. One of them was a missed turnaround. I don't know how much Coach Donovan likes that, but we'll see moving forward.
- Anthony Morrow was a valuable floor spacer tonight. One of Morrow's threes came after he stole the ball, and another three came via a Waiters-Adams pick and roll. Morrow even managed to hit a two pointer, via a stepback over the slow footed Kyle Anderson.
- Dion Waiters was a bit frustrating to watch until the fourth quarter. Transition was definitely the name of the game for Dion, but he would sometimes get rushed into bad decisions while driving the ball. Bad passes out of the drive are the reason for two of Dion's turnovers, and his other TO was from a bad offensive foul on Patty Mills. Also, I saw Waiters miss an open catch and shoot corner three. Otherwise though, Dion hit a sick floater, did a good job of moving the defense, and got to the rim. And of course, Dion's fourth quarter heroics mean that everything is forgiven.
- D.J. Augustin officially won the backup point guard battle, to no one's surprise. Augustin was really on point defensively, registering 3 steals. The pick and roll game was big for Augustin offensively. D.J. drew a couple of fouls around screens, and dished it to bigs in the paint with ease.
- During a 1:16 stretch of the last two minutes of the first, OKC had 3 steals and went on a 7-0 run. Backcourt? Westbrook-Morrow-Augustin, all with a steal each. Donovan's lineup brilliance strikes again!
- Gregg Popovich wasn't super hateful in his in-game interview tonight, unfortunately. Great timeouts though.
- Kyle Anderson had a couple of nice one handed floaters over shorter defenders.
- Boris Diaw had 3 blocks, and at one point blocked twice in the same possession. Quite impressive for the slowest man on the floor.
- There was a three minute stretch in the second quarter where neither team scored.
- Donovan's advice in the first half? More physicality, more stamina. Against an old team like the Spurs, I love it.
- Considering how skilled of a scorer Aldridge is, the Thunder did a tremendous job against him in 1 on 1 situations today. Ibaka, Collison, and Adams all deserve part of the credit.
- OKC was in the foul penalty with 5 minutes to go in the third, and 3:31 to go in the fourth. Nothing came of it both times, but the Thunder definitely attacked the paint and used it to their advantage.
- A lineup of Morrow-Augustin-Waiters-Kanter-Adams went on a 9-4 run to start the fourth. No KD, no Westbrook, no Ibaka!
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, whom should never give up on his three point shot
Thunder Down Under: Dion Waiters, because clutchness rules all
Thunder Plunderer: Kawhi Leonard, this year's certified KD stopper
Thunder Blunder: Nick Collison, 3 turnovers in 8 minutes
Next Game: At the Orlando Magic, Friday, October 30th, 6 PM Central Daylight Time.
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